By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It was beautiful a few days ago on the green grass on the side of Waiakea’s gym, a perfect time and place to take in a nap under the sun with a nice, soothing breeze bringing additional comfort.
But senior wrestlers Alan Ikehara and Kayed Rodrigues had better things to do. They were working their tails off in preparation for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation championships. They both understand practice is the place where gold is won.
Ikehara is the defending champ at 152 pounds, beating Honokaa’s Austin Sprague 17-5 last season. Both are expected to reach the final. For the season, Ikehara (14-1) is 2 out of 3 against the Dragon with the “unorthodox moves.”
Rodrigues has pocketed gold at the 171 weight class the last two years. He’s put on weight from football and jumped to 182 pounds. It’s tougher competition, but Rodrigues (16-0) has yet to taste the agony of defeat.
They’re the only defending champions for Waiakea, which has captured the last three league crowns heading into today’s finals at Keauu High. The challenge is a bit tougher because only nine out of 14 weight classes will be filled, same as 2011 when the title run started.
Before the Warriors rose to prominence, Kealakehe won BIIF championships in 2009 and ‘10.
“Last year, we had 11 of 14. My freshman year it was nine of 14 and we won BIIFs by six points,” Rodrigues said. “The team is pretty good. We’re working hard for it. We have guys who want to be here and want to win.”
The Warriors practice in a portable classroom, about a wedge shot away from the gym. It feels like a sauna but without the luxury of cleansing steam. It smells like old socks, but multiplied a thousand times.
It is a good place as any to train champions.
“From last season, I kind of push harder and have better endurance,” Rodrigues said. “I’m moving faster and got a little bit stronger. My season has been pretty good, all right, not great. I should have gotten more matches at 195 pounds. One tourney I was at that weight and went 3-0. I should have done more throughout the year.
“My motivation is I really want to place higher at states (sixth last year). I’ve been working hard every day.”
As far as getting his third BIIF gold, Rodrigues, a very composed sort, played football so he tackled any worries, put it a tomato can and punted it down the street.
“No pressure, just do it,” said potential Nike spokesman Rodrigues, who hopes to wrestle in college and major in fire science.
When the spring season rolls around, he can turn his attention to his other gold-collecting sport, judo. He took the BIIF title at 198 pounds last year and 178 as a sophomore. He and Ikehara are pals in that regard, too.
Ikehara is also a judoka. He was second at 160 pounds last year and 145 as a sophomore. Like Rodrigues, he’s about the hard work and the less words spoken the better — that’s less time spent at practice.
“I feel I’ve gotten more experience on the wrestling mat and have different moves,” said Ikehara, who also wants to wrestle in college and major in fire science. “I’ve refined my moves but it still needs a lot of work.
“Austin had an unorthodox style. He goes for throws and rolls. My season has been good, but it could have been better, if I were more focused for the whole season.”
Ikehara is the understated type, looking to shine a light on his teammates instead of himself. Maybe the Warriors come up with a new batch of champions and continue their title reign. From a glass-half-full perspective, Ikehara highlights one cold hard fact.
“A (four-peat) is possible,” he said. “We have to wrestle good on Saturday. We all work hard and don’t give up.”